House of RepresentativesOn Tuesday night the House of Representatives passed historic legislation outlawing discrimination against LGBTI people, including an amendment removing anti-discrimination exemptions for faith-based aged care providers.

The Sex Discrimination Amendment Bill 2013 introduces protections into Australian law against discrimination on the newly defined grounds of ‘sexual orientation’, ‘gender identity’, ‘intersex status’ and ‘marital or relationship status’.

The protections for ‘intersex status’ in particular are ground-breaking, and are the first time in the world intersex people have received this kind of specific recognition and protection under national anti-discrimination law.

President of Organisation Intersex Australia (OII) Gina Wilson has celebrated the change, the result of extensive campaigning.

“We acknowledge with great thanks all of those who helped, particularly our LGBT allies, who went to the trouble of understanding and including intersex in their own efforts to bring about this historic legislative change,” she said.

NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Justin Koonin praised the bill’s amendment to remove anti-discrimination exemptions.

“The removal of religious exemptions for Commonwealth funded aged-care services will play a critical role in ensuring that older LGBTI people, many of whom came of age in an era marked by violence and social exclusion, can age with the dignity and respect that all human beings are entitled to,” he said.

Although they supported the bill, the amendment was opposed by the Coalition. Opposition legal affairs spokesperson Senator George Brandis compared the rights of LGBTI Australians not to suffer discrimination to religious “freedom” for faith-based organisations to discriminate.

The Coalition’s position has been criticised by human rights activists for capitulating to a small minority within Australia’s religious communities. Two of Australia’s largest faith-based aged care providers Mission Australia and UnitingCare strongly supported removing exemptions in a submission to a Senate inquiry.

Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby Convenor Anna Brown told The Sydney Morning Herald exemptions for aged care providers could have been leaving older LGBTI people without access to services.

“Nationally, 33 per cent of aged care providers are religiously run. In some geographical areas this can equate to between 70 to 100 per cent of available places in their area. It’s pure fiction to argue that people have a choice,” she said.

Senator Sue Boyce once again crossed the floor of the Senate on Monday night to vote on the amendment after doing the same in last week’s vote to recognise same-sex marriages performed overseas. Openly gay Liberal Senator Dean Smith abstained from voting on the amendment.

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